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Making Meetings Work

2009 is coming to a close, and now is when business owners give renewed thought to how they operate their businesses. Many will be planning to do things differently—all aimed toward getting through 2010—and one component of that is productive meetings. Whether it is management of large corporations or leaders of small companies, a lot of time has been devoted to making meetings work. I would like to share some the guidelines I have picked up over the years that can help you get more out of meetings quickly while minimizing your stress.

One of the most important factors in organizing a meeting is preparation. Whether you are meeting with your general contractor or a client, prepare your goals and know the results you want to obtain. They should be clearly written and be complete and specific. Is job-manning the reason for the meeting? Are you reviewing financials? Is the meeting being held to discuss new safety requirements?

Start by assembling a basic agenda that we like to call the three P’s: the Purpose of the meeting; the Process, which is a time-bound outline specifying topics; and the Payoff, the expectations of the meeting’s outcome. A meeting without an agenda is like a journey without a map—it is guaranteed to take longer and produce fewer results. Advance preparation assures that the meeting will progress smoothly, efficiently and effectively.

Sometimes, however, meetings can go off on tangents. To stay focused on the agenda and schedule, two important roles should be designated at the meeting. The meeting leader (the person preparing the three “P’s”) should ensure all of the meeting’s participants stay on topic. And, there should be an appointed sergeant-at-arms to keep the meeting within the time frame allotted.

Without a doubt you are likely to encounter common problems. From the outset, make your expectations clear to all attendees. If everyone who attends the meeting knows its goals, then everyone will know that when those goals are met, the meeting is over.

Important behavioral guidelines should be included as well. For instance, a list of “Meeting Helps” and “Meeting Hinders” posted for attendees ensures everyone is aware of what is expected of them. Examples of “Meeting Helps” include feedback, open discussion and exchange of information. Getting ideas flowing will help the team resolve problems. Also, having everyone report in the same format, and keeping accurate minutes of the meeting will help you have a successful follow-up meeting. Above all, respect and pay attention to each other.

A few examples of “Meeting Hinders” are lateness, cell phone usage, side meetings, clowning around, doodling and arguing. Some conflict, however, can be productive when that energy can be channeled into developing constructive solutions and new ideas.

Unfortunately, meetings have gotten a bad rap, since so many are unproductive and dull. But they have their place, and the good ones can increase the effectiveness and bottom line in small and large businesses.

The holiday season is upon us, so I wish you and your family well, and I wish for us all a prosperous new year.

In addition to being the 2009–2010 president of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, Weber is president of Island Acoustics LLC in Bohemia, N.Y.

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